With the state assembly elections just a month away, the Congress party is receiving one setback after another, and the way things are going it seems that the dream of Congress to snatch Chhattisgarh from BJP is only going to remain a chimera. Just a few days ago, its senior leader and state executive president- Ram Dayal Uike- joined the BJP. The BJP President inducted Ram Dayal Uike into the BJP in the presence of Chief Minister Raman Singh, in Bilaspur.
However, the Grand Old Party received its biggest jolt in September when Mayawati snubbed the Congress. The BSP declared to contest in the upcoming Chhattisgarh state assembly elections in coalition with Ajit Jogi’s Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (JCC-J). BSP supremo also made it very clear that if the government of the BSP- JCC came to power then Ajit Jogi will be the Chief Ministerial candidate. In Chhattisgarh, the BSP will contest on 35 seats and JCC will fight on the remaining 55 seats. One of the reasons why BSP decided to go with JCC is perhaps the Congress party was not willing to give more than 5 seats to the BSP.
The pre-poll alliance between the BSP-JCC is seen as a major setback to the dreams of the Grand Old Party which had been trying to throw BJP out of power which has been ruling the state from the past 15 years. In fact, former Congress leader and now the CM candidate of BSP-JCC alliance- Ajit Jogi is trying to turn the assembly elections into a triangular contest and any such contest is most likely to benefit the BJP, as it will chop the votes of the Congress. In Chhattisgarh, shift of even 1% of the votes is enough to alter the equations drastically. In the last state assembly elections, both parties- Congress and BJP had a vote difference of just below 1 percent.
Ajit Jogi was an IAS officer in MP. He was young dynamic and from the ST faction. When NDA created Chhattisgarh, Congress had the majority of MLAs and as usual the high command chose the one deemed most loyal. The Bureaucrat-turned-Politician, Ajit Jogi became the first Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh. However, in his short tenure of three years, the state witnessed many ups and downs and caste politics became rampant in the newly created state. As a result of this, the Congress lost the next assembly elections and has never tasted power ever since.
Just two years ago, Ajit Jogi and his son Amit Jogi divorced Congress and formed their own party- JCC. The Congress leaders were quick to label JCC as ‘B-Team’ of the BJP, while the state BJP president Dharamlal Kaushik said, “However, the BJP is not at all worried as it (BSP-JCC tie-up) will benefit the party and it will storm back to power for a fourth consecutive term.” He further said that the party is looking to win 65 of the 90 assembly seats. The NDTV has quoted another BJP leader Saroj Pandey saying that “Mr Jogi will definitely draw votes from the party he was associated with”, a clear reference to Congress.
The state has nearly 50% Schedule Castes and Schedule Tribes population among whom Ajit Jogi enjoys significant influence. Tribal population of the state sees Ajit Jogi as an intellectual and symbol of an empowered person from the tribal community who “made it big”. He has authored two books, “The Role of District Collector”, and “Administration of Peripheral Areas.”. In the last assembly elections, the Congress won tribals in the South Chhattisgarh even as it failed to perform well in urban areas. In Bastar, the Congress won eight out of total 12 assembly constituencies. However, this time their leading Tribal face- Ajit Jogi- is not with them, so the party is most likely to register a steep decline among Tribal voters of the state. Although issue of Ajit Jogi’s tribal status is a subject of much debate in the state. In this in January, Bilaspur High Court upheld Jogi’s tribal status petition. So, it is safe to conclude that he is an influential and relatable tribal leader. He holds significant influence among the tribal belt. He also enjoys good following among Dalits, Muslims and Christians; and the exit of such stalwart leader would definitely ruin the electoral arithmetic for the Congress.
To make the case worse for the Congress, the party failed to stitch up an alliance with Mayawati. Mayawati’s BSP got 4.27% vote share in the last state assembly elections. The veteran journalist Ramesh Nayyar told PTI, “The Congress has suffered a major setback with the move as it was attempting to take the BSP to its side for the upcoming election, in view of the latter’s hold among Scheduled Caste population, particularly the Satnami community, in districts like Janjgir-Champa, Raigarh and Bilaspur.” The BSP has considerable presence on around 11 seats.
Historically the elections in Chhattisgarh have been closely fought and Ajit Jogi-Mayawati alliance will lead to division of the anti-BJP votes or anti-incumbency votes which will ultimately end up benefiting BJP.
Considering the fact that Ajit Jogi is a former Congressman and he still can command loyalty from the cadre leading to a division, hurting the electoral and political prospect of the party in the state. Two current Congress MLAs, Siyaram Kaushik from Bilha and RK Rai from Gunderdehi constituencies, are now on Jogi’s side. Fortnight CPI has also joined the JCC-BSP alliance and would contest on two seats-Konta and Dantewada. The JCC-BSP-CPI alliance would have a significant influence on around 15 seats and the Congress party would be the biggest victim of this trio. Perhaps realizing the damage that Ajit Jogi led alliance could cause to the Congress, the party has already started its anti-campaign calling him BJP’s ‘sleeper agent’. The Congress knows that there future in the state is bleak, so they have resorted to spreading conspiracy theories. The state unit of Congress is on back foot. Its party Chief Bhupesh Baghel was surrounded by controversy. He was caught in a sex CD controversy and was thrown behind the bars. He is currently out on bail. Just like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh is also plagued by factionalism. In Chattisgarh, there are three claimants of CM post- Bhupesh Baghel (Pradesh Congress Committee chief), T.S. Singh Deo (Leader of Opposition) and Charan Das Mahant (former Union Minister and MP from Korba). Apart from these three, according to Congress party leaders, a fourth person- Tamradhwaj Sahu, MP from Durg and president of All India Congress Committee’s OBC wing- is likely to emerge as the strongest candidate for the post of CM.
If not pacified quickly, this infighting is bound to hurt the party in the upcoming elections, state as well as Lok Sabha elections, as more and more defection of disgruntled leaders might occur. The Congress in Chhattisgarh looks all set to score a humiliating defeat for itself, again.
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